‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Artificial Sweeteners: Not So Sweet After All

The FDA has come under much scrutiny in the last few months regarding their lax requirements for accepting food additives by manufacturers. One such food additive, non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) has been around for a while, but research is showing it's neither sugar, spice, nor 'all things nice'.

The FDA lists 5 approved NAS, sometimes called non-nutritive sweeteners, the most common ones are:
  • Aspartame (Nurtasweet or Equal)
  • Saccharin (Sweet'n'Low)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
There are a few theories about NAS causing weight gain, from "you're tricking your body with fake sugar so it will eventually crave real sugar" to "I had a diet Coke with my burger, I'm ok to have a piece of chocolate cake". Before we determine if these NAS are truly 'Splendid' or 'Equal' to sugar, let's look at some real science that's also real interesting.

Animal studies found a curious link to NAS causing altered metabolism - in specific that NAS were causing glucose intolerance, meaning the body isn't able to restore/maintain blood glucose levels within a normal healthy range.

They compared blood glucose levels (BGLs) of mice who were consuming diets containing regular sugar vs NAS. Amazingly, they found the NAS mice had significantly higher BGLs.

Enter: your gut bacteria. It is quite well established that different kinds of diets (eating patterns) result in different kinds of bacteria present in your gut. Here's what the scientists did next:
  • Wiped the gut bacteria from the mice using antibiotics
  • What did they find? It eliminated the higher BGLs seen in the NAS mice
Next, a fecal transplant (yep, exactly what it sounds like)
  • From the NAS-fed mice to mice that had never consumed NAS
  • What did they find? The mice who received the transplant, developed glucose intolerance
 Next, the scientists rounded up 400 willing human participants and found:
  • The bacteria in human guts differed significantly between those who consumed NAS and those who didn't
  • NAS consumers exhibited certain biological markers linked to obesity and disease (like increased BGLs)
  • When non-NAS consumers were put on a 7 day controlled high NAS-containing diet, they found that after 4 days, 50% had elevated BGLs and altered gut bacteria
The conclusion: NAS may contribute to, rather than alleviate metabolic conditions associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes by altering the function and composition of gut bacteria. You can fool your taste buds, but your gut bacteria know the truth.

Take home points:
  • When you eat tofu turkey (tofurkey), a few misguided souls may proclaim it tastes like turkey, but your body is still digesting tofu... not turkey
  • Substituting sugar for NAS, doesn't make cake a healthy meal
  • Be thankful you can alter your gut bacteria without a fecal transplant

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